Who the Hell Left the Gate Open? Trayvon Martin, racial profiling and the gated community

As the apparent (or not so apparent) accidental death of 17-year old Trayvon Martin in a gated, Florida community ignites a firestorm of controversy across the nation; stereotypes surrounding race and class are once again on the forefront of people’s minds. As we now know, Trayvon Martin, black, was shot and killed by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, who is, white. Zimmerman has confessed to shooting Martin. He has given the “I thought he had a gun reason” for pulling the trigger that tragically ended this young man’s life. Now as an investigation is underway and facts surrounding that night’s tragic incident are being gathered, a few things remain clear; a man who was armed shot an unarmed African American male in a predominately white neighborhood. Zimmerman thought Martin was carrying a gun (a gun that included snacks, soda and a cell phone). When Martin was shot, it was at night and raining outside. Zimmerman was patrolling the neighborhood in his car when he spotted Martin, who was on his way back to his mother’s house, walking through the neighborhood. Upon initially seeing Martin, Zimmerman notified authorities (thank God for 911) based solely on the fact that Martin “looked suspicious.” After being told by a 911 dispatcher to stand down, Zimmerman for some reason decided to leave his vehicle and “apprehend” Martin before the police arrived. The result, as we all now know, was the death of teenage Martin. Over the last few days, (thanks to Geraldo Rivera), it has been revealed that Martin was wearing a “hoodie” (slang for hooded sweat shirt). Since this hooded revelation, Zimmerman has gone on record stating that his community has seen a rise in crime in recent months and that because of this; his actions were warranted in order to protect his community. A gated community is well, just that, a gated community. A community with its own homes, streets and parks built inside gates with controlled entrances for the people who reside there. These distinct communities are different from traditional communities, in that most of the properties are not only expensive but also, secluded (and, for kicks, they come with there very own security team!). For the most part, most people tend to live in gated communities because of there exclusiveness – and, I mean, we all know how great exclusivity is, right? Right! (For those of you wondering what this might look like in Buffalo, think Spaulding Lake, or Selby Court.) So in a sense, to some Trayvon Martin’s presence would not be a typical sight in a gated community. But, it is. In 2012 there are African Americans who reside in these types of places. (And no, it’s not a “here comes the neighborhood” moment. Blacks can (and do) live in gated communities – hell some might even live in yours.) I am not a mind reader but one wonders what was going through the mind of Zimmerman upon observing Martin (a young black man), walking through his gated community in a hooded sweat shirt, with “stuff,” or a gun in his pocket. Zimmerman might’ve been thinking, “Who in the hell left the gate open? How did this one breach our defense systems? Oh well, no matter I shall save us from the barbarian invasion.” I wonder if Martin had been of another race (and wearing a hoodie), let’s say white, if Zimmerman would’ve still considered him suspicious? Would he have acted so hastily in the situation and rushed to judgment? We don’t know the answer to these questions. It is known however that when one is consumed by fear and bigotry, all reasonable sense goes out the window. As thousands of people take to the streets in various demonstrations around the country calling for an arrest (and for the prosecution of Zimmerman), I feel as if we are still missing the larger issue. Racial profiling (or the close observation of certain individuals based upon their racial makeup) of black people, particularly young black males, is something that unfortunately is an everyday occurrence in many communities throughout America. I say unfortunately because the profiling usually occurs for all the wrong reasons. For example, the police “stretches” the writer of this piece, who is a young black male with no arrest record, at least three to four times a year. And, for those of you who don’t know what being “stretched” is all about, please let me explain. Being stretched is different than being stopped by police. When the police “stretches” someone, you are submitted to the complete song and dance. So instead of being asked for your ID, given an appearance ticket and sent on your way, you will be submitted to a thorough, often times humiliating search – a search that includes going through your trunk, glove compartments, shoes, socks, and maybe even your underwear. I mean after all, the guns and the drugs, have got to be hidden somewhere. What makes Trayvon Martin’s situation so unfortunate is due in large part to where and how it happened. Taking this situation and holding it up as a litmus test only shows how far we as a country still need to go. Racial and class equality have a long road ahead of them before we, as a country, can get to a place where these things no longer matter. It’s a place where a young, black boy can walk down the street of a gated community (or any community for that matter) and not be accosted by the police because he looks suspicious. The greatest tragedy about Trayvon Martin is that it took his death to get people in this country (at least in large numbers) to revisit the problems that we have with class and race. Who is a criminal? What does a criminal look like? What does a criminal wear? That depends on who’s doing the looking.